The Socialist 15 February 2002 |
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Queen's golden jubilee: Last Stand Of A Feudal Relic?
MEMBERS OF "the establishment", it seems, are very worried by public apathy towards street parties celebrating the Queen's Golden Jubilee this year. The Times blames the cost of organising them, but thousands of pounds are on offer to community organisations which put them on.
By Steve Score
In reality there is much less enthusiasm for the monarchy than when Liz took the throne 50 years ago, or even at the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977.
Then the Sex Pistols epitomised anti-royalism for many young people by sneering: "God save the Queen, a fascist regime..." Nevertheless, 100,000 street parties were held. This time, so few have been organised to date that the Queen has offered to pop in to some of them, presumably for a beer and a sausage on a stick!
Half a century ago Britain could still claim the remnants of an empire and the Queen headed its replacement - the "Common-wealth" - which appeared to mean something then. Royalty still had a wide base of support.
But backing for the monarchy has slipped drastically and many who still support it believe that it's a harmless tourist attraction, that maybe ought to be slimmed down and the "hangers-on" ditched.
Many see them merely as an upper-class TV soap with all the family doings picked over by the tabloids. One newspaper columnist called them "a group of light entertainers".
Last year a Mori opinion poll commissioned by senior royals found that less than half those surveyed thought the monarchy was "important to Britain".
Guardian/ ICM polls show the number of "republican-minded" (as opposed to "indifferent" to the monarchy) has gone from 13% in 1987 to 34% last year. Only 40% of 16-24 year olds wanted to keep the monarchy - its support is dying out with each generation. Indeed half the population thinks the monarchy will be gone before the next 50 years is up.
The monarchy's image is battered by family scandal but even more by revelations of extreme wealth, sponging and business corruption - and of course the Queen's hubby and his bigoted racist public comments.
LAST YEAR Sophie Rhys-Jones, Prince Edward's wife, boasted to a News of the World journalist (disguised as an Arab sheikh) that she used her royal connections to make money through her PR company.
Edward and Sophie apparently need those few extra quid from business. They find it hard to get by on the £141,000 a year of taxpayers' cash they get, plus the run of a 50-room country house in Surrey (again taxpayer-subsidised).
Several minor royals have "grace and favour" apartments in Kensington Palace overlooking Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. One is occupied by Prince and Princess Michael of Kent (funny that they both have the same name) who don't even do "royal engagements".
This "modest pile" includes nine reception rooms, seven bedrooms and the use of the Palace staff of cleaners, gardeners and 18 craftsmen for maintenance. True, after getting it free for the first 18 years, they now make a contribution. But they pay a similar amount to the rent on a council house - £67 a week. Its market rent would be around £10,000 a week.
Never mind, if they get evicted they could always stay in their £1.6 million country mansion in Gloucestershire. This royal wealth looks more obscene now so many are living in poverty in Britain and when public services are starved of cash.
Every year taxpayers fork out £15 million to maintain the royal palaces. On top of this the Windsors get £9 million for the "Civil List". This is despite the vast fortunes that they privately own (and pay no inheritance tax on).
These pressures lead some people to propose a "modernised monarchy" which would cut back on expenditure, slim down the civil list just to the immediate family, and create a new "people's monarchy" image.
This is a desperate attempt to revive its support. However if Tony Blair's "modernisation" of the House of Lords is anything to go by, these proposals would not amount to much.
BUT WOULD this cheaper, slimmer monarchy be acceptable? Socialists say emphatically no. In peaceful times, the monarchy just tries to reinforce feelings of deference towards our ruling-class betters.
There is a more serious side, however, to the British monarchy. Despite the claim that the Queen is just a "figurehead", she has important reserve powers.
The monarch has to sign parliamentary bills before they can become law, has the right to appoint the Prime Minister and the government (irrespective of who has a parliamentary majority), and the right to dissolve parliament.
The armed forces, judges, MPs and all senior government officers swear allegiance to the Crown - not the elected parliament.
At a time of crisis these powers could be used to dismiss a government and even use the armed forces against anyone trying to change society or resisting the ruling class's interests.
This is why the monarchy's social base of support is so important to the ruling class. It could be used to try to build support for action against working-class and socialist movements. The ruling class worry about the recent trend away from the royals.
Interestingly, in a 1996 Gallop poll 37% said they would vote for the Queen if she led a political party. This would perhaps be less today, but it shows more about contempt for political leaders than support for the monarchy.
Is this fantasy? Surely these powers are just nominal and wouldn't be used by today's emasculated monarchy. Yet they have been already.
In 1931 Ramsay MacDonald split the Labour Party by resigning as Prime Minister and forming a "national government" in coalition with the Tories and Liberals in order to carry through attacks on the working class. It was the King who gave him the commission to resume as Prime Minister of the new government.
More recently, it was the Queen's representative in Australia, Sir John Kerr, who dismissed Gough Whitlam's Labour government in 1975.
During the lorry drivers' fuel protest in 2000 the Queen was wheeled out to invoke emergency powers through the Privy Council. Blair was considering using the Army to drive tankers if the protests hadn't ended when they did.
We are entering a period of working-class struggle. If the capitalists feel their profits and system are under threat they would try to use any weapon they can to preserve them, including the monarchy.
That is why the Socialist Party calls for the abolition of the monarchy altogether, along with the House of Lords and all other feudal relics and symbols of privilege.